Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God Chapter 20 Quotes
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Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Soon everything around downstairs was shut and fastened. Janie mounted the stairs with her lamp…Now, in her room, the place tasted fresh again. The wind through the open windows had broomed out all the fetid feeling of absence and nothingness. (20.11)
This passage alternates between images of enclosed spaces and wide open ones. But here, nothing feels trapped. Janie has returned to the home that Joe once trapped her in, but even though the downstairs is "shut and fastened," it feels cozy and comforting instead of claustrophobic. Upstairs, the open windows give the room a sense of largeness which, paradoxically, does not feel empty. Instead, it makes Janie feel free.
[Janie to Pheoby]: "Dem meatskins [the gossipers on the porch] is got tuh rattle tuh make out they’s alive. Let ‘em consulate theyselves wid talk. ‘Course, talkin’ don’t amount tuh uh hill uh beans when yuh can’t do nothin’ else. And listenin’ tuh dat kind uh talk is jus’ lak openin’ yo’ mouth and lettin’ de moon shine down yo’ throat. It’s uh known fact Pheoby, you got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves." (20.9)
Janie highlights the crucial difference between talk and action. She characterizes the gossipers on the porch as petty because they live vicariously through talking, never having the guts to strike out for themselves and try living what they talk about.
The day of the gun, and the bloody body, and the courthouse came and commenced to sing a sobbing sigh out of every corner in the room; out of each and every chair and thing. Commenced to sing, commenced to sob and sigh, singing and sobbing. Then Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song of the sigh flew out of the window and lit in the top of the pine trees. (20.12)
Janie’s memories are depicted as having voices, able to "sing," "sob and sigh." Their vocalizations are expressions of poignant grief, lamentations that are beautifully sung, then reduced to less controlled outpourings of sobbing and sighing. This personification of Janie’s memories accentuates her deep sadness for Tea Cake, a sadness which is beyond words.